An extensive report recently published about bicycle deaths is turning heads in Florida, evoking fear in those who travel by bike.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report last month that found Florida has the highest bicycle death rate in the country from 2008-2012 with 0.57 deaths per 100,000 people. In comparison, Delaware, the state with the second highest total, recorded a rate of only 0.38.
To add even more concern, Florida’s cyclist death rate decreased by less than 10 percent from the last period the statistic was measured, which was more than three decades ago and less than other states.
Despite Alachua County’s bike-friendly reputation, the area was listed as one of the top 15 high-priority counties in Florida for injuries and fatalities, according to the 2015 Florida Highway Safety Plan.
Why is Florida so problematic, and what is Alachua doing to fix its own issues?
Dekova Batey, Gainesville’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, said several factors influence Florida’s high rating when it comes to bicycle deaths.
He noted that Gainesville is a town that attracts people from all over the world, with a major university at its core. As a result, there are a lot of people who might have travel habits that conflict with the way the city operates. Batley also cited good biking weather and frequently distracted drivers as reasons for bicycle accidents.
He said that drivers and cyclists are both at fault when it comes to alertness, and that’s something he tries to teach. Batey makes presentations for all ages to promote awareness and understanding of Florida laws.
“The cyclist and the pedestrian are definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to having a crash, so we’re trying to spotlight those issues locally,” he said.
Batey said one of the city’s newest projects are bike boulevards, which differ from a traditional bike lane. The bike boulevards feature a symbol on the road called a sharrow, which is colored in green.
He explained that sharrows expand the options for cyclists. Instead of being constrained by a bike lane, sharrows allow people to choose between riding in the road with traffic or staying on the side of the road.
Another possible action is placing a physical curb or barrier on roads, which will give cyclists more comfort, Batey said.
“We’re trying to let vulnerable road users empower themselves by knowing the rules and being safe,” he said.
The University of Florida has gotten involved, explained Jaime Carreon, the project manager for the Florida Pedestrian & Bicycling Safety Resource Center.
He said the center features a bike helmet program in which anyone in the state of Florida can receive a free helmet upon completion of a course.
Trenda McPherson, State Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation, said that the problem has been FDOT’s highest priority for about three years now.
The department published a safety plan in early 2013, but officials began to gather data in 2011, assessing various details like road use, demographics and emergency response times.
The FDOT has implemented programs such as Complete Streets, which works with local areas to create workshops and activities that promote transportation safety.
McPherson stressed the importance of developing a plan that reflects Florida’s specific cultural profile.
She said FDOT’s goal is to combine efforts to yield a concentrated result and that the program will be successful, but will take time to be adapted by Florida citizens.